Using Canned Meat

Canned meat goes way beyond tuna casserole!  A wide variety of meats and seafood are available in cans and pouches, and with these tips you’ll be cooking great meals that no one will guess began with a can.

I first started using canned meats on camping and canoe trips, when we didn’t have refrigeration.  And I continued to use them aboard Que Tal to supplement the limited meat supply in our tiny freezer.  We’ve gone for more than two months on several occasions without fresh meat and didn’t feel deprived (we did have access to fresh produce, though).

In addition to being easy to store, canned meat has the added advantage of being quick to prepare since it’s already cooked – translating to less time in the galley when on passage or in an interesting anchorage, and less cooking heat in the boat when it’s hot outside.

It’s not hard to prepare great meals from canned meats.  The canning process tends to take away some of the firmness and flavor of the meat, so the trick is to preserve and enhance the texture and flavor that’s there.

The biggest complaint that most people have with canned meats is that everything in the dish turns into one big blob.  But that doesn’t have to be the case!  You can have great meals with just a little care.  Through the years, I’ve learned a few tips to ensure good results:

  • Add the meat as late in the cooking process as possible.  It’s already cooked, so all you have to do is warm it up.
  • Once you’ve added the meat, stir as little as possible so it won’t turn to mush.  This is particularly true of chicken, turkey and beef and is one reason these meats shouldn’t be added until the very end of the cooking time and just warmed through.
  • Ham is the only meat that you need to “crumble” or break apart as you add it to the other ingredients.  All other meats should be handled very gently.
  • Don’t overcook other ingredients to the point where they lose their texture and become a “blob” with the meat.
  • Add one-half to one bouillon cube of an appropriate flavor to make up for the fact that you don’t have drippings from browning the meat.  Most bouillon cubes have a lot of sodium, so don’t add extra salt.
  • Drain the liquid from the can and use it in the cooking process (ditto for any canned vegetables you use).  It’ll add a lot more flavor than plain water.
  • Casserole-type dishes taking long cooking are generally inappropriate for canned meats.

I buy most meats in cans about the size of tuna cans – they’re just right for one meal for two people with average appetities.  I use ham, chicken, turkey, tuna, crab, shrimp, corned beef, roast beef, corned beef hash and probably others — I’ve found them not only in the US but also in Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and on land-based camping trips in South America and Africa.  More recently, some meats are available in foil pouches, which cost a bit more but are lighter, take up less space and generally have even better texture.

My experience is that the more remote the locale, the greater variety of canned meats you’re likely to find since the local people are unlikely to have refrigeration.  Mexican fishing villages often had a wonderful assortment!

If you’re interested in more tips and recipes for canned meats,check out The Boat Galley Cookbook — it has a full chapter devoted to canned meats.

Canned meat goes way beyond tuna casserole!  With these tips you'll be cooking great meals that no one will guess began with a can.

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15 Comments
  • Carolyn Shearlock
    Posted at 19 April 2011 Reply

    On The Boat Galley’s Facebook page, Mary noted that she likes canned meat from Brinkman Farms — I’ve never had it, but several cruisers have told me it’s excellent.

  • Bruce
    Posted at 16 May 2011 Reply

    Have you ever tried using the bodybuilder 100% whey protein drink powder for making snacks and replacing canned meat? Perhaps for emergency rations?

    • Carolyn Shearlock
      Posted at 16 May 2011 Reply

      In an emergency, I guess anything would work. To make tasty meals on a daily basis where you don’t feel like you’re just making do, it’s not something I’d use. For me, canned meat makes good meals that are “real food” — protein powder would be fine nutritionally, but I don’t think you could make a satisfying meal from it.

  • Kym
    Posted at 25 January 2012 Reply

    Hi Carolyn. My partner and I are about to embark on a new life living aboard a narrowboat on the canals of England UK. We are trying to identify good quality tinned meat products to purchase. Any ideas please?

    Regards

    Kym Cheeseman

    • Carolyn Shearlock
      Posted at 25 January 2012 Reply

      I’m not familiar with UK brands, but there are several UK residents who follow TBG on Facebook. I’ll post a note there a little later (so it will show up in UK in the morning there) and ask if anyone has recommendations as to brands.

      -Carolyn

  • margot partridge
    Posted at 28 August 2012 Reply

    did several meals from canned chicken on my cruise(just got back) I made sandwiches from chicken and tuna. My husband could not taste the differnce. He thought everything was tuna. The meals were tasty.

  • Shirley
    Posted at 29 December 2013 Reply

    I’ve been cruising for the last 12yrs and one of my favourite meals is canned chicken (heated up in its own juices) Mix 2/3rd cup Ranch or Caesar Salad dressing and 1/3rd French’s yellow mustard and 3Tbls brown sugar. Mix tog, add to chicken. Simmer about 3mins and serve on pasta. Delicious!

  • Brenda Roberts
    Posted at 18 June 2015 Reply

    I also use can chicken to make Chicken Salad Sandwiches. My recipe : drained can of chicken,mayonnaise to your taste, black pepper, and chopped seedless grapes (i like the dark grapes) I also like to use croissants for the sandwich bread

  • Chuck Weldele
    Posted at 24 January 2016 Reply

    Going to be. Passing through Marathon in a few min. A little chilly down here, but glad I’m not in the Pa. snow.

    • The Boat Galley
      Posted at 24 January 2016 Reply

      Absolutely! It’s nice and sunny here, though I am wearing SOCKS!

    • Chuck Weldele
      Posted at 24 January 2016 Reply

      Shopping for our first larger live aboard. Considering a Gemini.

    • The Boat Galley
      Posted at 24 January 2016 Reply

      We like ours and there are a lot of other people living on them. I think there are nine, maybe 10, in Boot Key Harbor right now!

  • LaDonna Thomas
    Posted at 22 April 2017 Reply

    I use a lot of the “Kirkland” brand canned chicken and just love it! It can be found in the Caribbean too! So versatile, I use it in salads, wraps, curry, risotto…..

    A huge thanks to Carolyn or I would never have tried canned meats at all

  • Chris Link
    Posted at 22 April 2017 Reply

    If you are still a year or two away from your cruise consider learning to can your own meat with a pressure cooker.It was easy and let me have quick meals after work while learning.

  • Albert J K III
    Posted at 22 April 2017 Reply

    Wait just a minute…!….! I don’t see any Spam in the cover photo! Unless, it’s hiding behind the title. 😉

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